*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 27th of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

It is Monday, so we head to the mailbag, and I’m feeling adventurous, maybe even a bit dangerous, and so… Kevin in Marietta, GA, I’m going to your email from a little while back. You wrote:

“I would love a show on the topic of hell, I know it might be controversial, but I’d like to hear about the different opinions throughout history.”

Thanks, Kevin- first, we know that Ray Traylor, AKA the Big Boss Man, also Buff Bagwell and Farooq Assad are from Marietta, making it some kind of incubator for middling 90s wrestlers (although Big Boss Man, he would handcuff you to the ropes and then beat you with a nightstick… good stuff)

How do you answer a question about Hell? We can look a the biblical texts, the historical record, and the church's various confessions. Let’s do a quick rundown of the questions we should ask.

First- what does the Hebrew Bible say? We have Sheol and Gehenna as the two primary places- Sheol seems to be the somewhat mysterious place of the dead, and Gehenna is the place of the damned. The idea of an underworld is seen in Jewish thought, especially in those places affected by Greek thought.

Jesus uses the terms Gehenna (the place of the damned) and Hades. Hades and Sheol can both be understood as the place of the dead. In 2nd Peter, we see the word “Tartarus” instead of Sheol or Hades- a reference to the Greek understanding of the afterlife.

The early church seems to have had diverse opinions on the idea of the afterlife- note that in the Apostles Creed, when we say that Jesus “descended into hell,” we are declaring that he went to Sheol and not Gehenna. In other words, he went to the place of the dead, not the site of the damned. It’s a later addition, however, added in the 8th century.

The Athanasian Creed I claims that the good will enter eternal life and evil into everlasting fire. Athanasius himself, however, taught a kind of annihilationism; that is, the non-saved eventually become nothing.

The early church held this among its three broad positions- the second to annihilationism is the idea of eternal life with its’ mirrored eternal death and punishment. This was upheld by many of the Big A’s: Augustine, Ambrose, and Aquinas.

In the Eastern church, we see apokatastasis- a kind of universalism that sees punishment as necessary but that ultimately would lead to all repentance. It was condemned in the 6th century, but it has remained in the church because of similar teachings from esteemed Greek Fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus.

If we look at the big three- Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant we see the necessity of punishment and the idea of an immortal soul for the saved and unsaved alike. More minor traditions within these traditions believe an eternal soul is a gift of salvation; thus, those without it will ultimately disappear.

If you know C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce,” you might recognize this. Hell is a shadowy place chosen by those who rejected the gift of eternal fellowship with the Father. The punishment isn’t so much hellfire as the absence of God.

Two quick words to wrap it up: first, post-Enlightenment Western Christians love nothing more than a good puzzle they can figure out that results in “the right answer.” And while there are correct and wrong answers, sometimes we have to sit now where we see dimly, as through a looking glass, and admit we don’t know some things as clearly as we’d like. Come to the doctrine humbly, look at it from different perspectives, collect your texts and talk about them in the community. That’s my 2 cents on doctrinal debates.

Lastly- I’ve been asked a couple of times about when I say “EGBOK” at the end of the show- I am neither affirming nor denying any particular doctrine with that statement except to say that my hope is so great that whatever it is when I find out what it is will be good and just and beautiful.

Thanks, Kevin, for your question- you can email me at danv@1517.org with questions for the mailbag or weekend edition ideas.

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- from 1 John.

7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of June 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who knows that when Satan loses his hair, there will be hell Toupee. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man reminded of Pat Benatar’s super creepy song “Hell is For Children” I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.